research in medicine, in experimental psychology and what
is still called parapsychology has thrown some light on the
nature of mind and its position in the world. During the last
forty years the conviction has steadily grown among medical
men that very many causes of diseases organic as well as functional,
are directly caused by mental states. The body becomes ill
because the mind controlling it either secretly wants to make
it ill, or else because it is in such a state of agitation
that it cannot prevent the body from sickening. Whatever it's
physical nature, resistance to disease is unquestionably correlated
with the physiological condition of the patient.
only makes sick, it also cures. An optimistic patient has more
chance of getting well than a patient who is worried and unhappy.
The recorded instances of faith healing include cases in which
even organic diseases were cured almost instantaneously. (2)
connection it is interesting to observe the prevalence, in Buddhist
lands, of listening to the recital of the dhamma or the
doctrine of the Buddha in order to avert illness or danger,
to ward off the influence of malignant beings, to obtain protection
and deliverance from evil, and to promote health, prosperity,
welfare and well-being. The selected discourses for recital
are known as 'paritta suttas', discourses for protection.
But they are not 'rakshana mantras' or protective incantations
found in Brahmanic religion, nor are they magical rites. There
is nothing mystical in them.
in Pali, 'Paritrana' in Sanskrit and 'Pirit' (pronounced
pirith) in Sinhala (3) mean principally
protection. Paritta suttas describe certain suttas
or discourses delivered by the Buddha and regarded as affording
protection. This protection is to be obtained by reciting or
listening to the Paritta Suttas. The practice of reciting
or listening to the paritta suttas began very early in
the history of Buddhism. The word paritta, in this context,
was used by the Buddha, for the first time, in a discourse known
as 'Khandha Paritta' (4) in the
Culla Vagga of the Vinaya Pitaka (vol. ii, p.
109), and also in the Anguttara Nikaya under the title
'Ahi (Metta) Sutta' (vol. ii, p. 82). This discourse
was recommended by the Buddha as guard or protection for the
use of the members of the Order. The Buddha in this discourse
exhorts the monks to cultivate Metta or Loving-kindness
towards all beings.
It is certain
that Paritta recital produces mental well-being in those
who listen to them with intelligence, and have confidence in
the truth of the Buddha's words. Such mental well being can
help those who are ill to recover, and can also help not only
to induce the mental attitude that brings happiness but also
to overcome its opposite. Originally, in India, those who listened
to Paritta sayings of the Buddha understood what was
recited and the effect on them was correspondingly great. The
Buddha himself had Paritta recited to him, and he also
requested others to recite Paritta for his own disciples
when they were ill.(5). This practice
is still in vogue in Buddhist lands.
and the Arahants (the Consummate Ones) can concentrate on the
paritta suttas without the aid of another. However, when
they are ill, it is easier for them to listen to what others
recite, and thus focus their minds on the Dhamma that
the Suttas contain, rather than think of the Dhamma
by themselves. There are occasions, as in the case of illness,
which weaken the mind (in the case of worldlings), when hetero-suggestion
has been found to be more effective than auto-suggestion.
to the teachings of the Buddha the mind is so closely linked
with the body that mental states affect the body's health and
well being. Some doctors even say there is no such thing as
purely physical disease. 'That even so grossly "physical"
a complaint as dental caries may be due to mental causes was
maintained in a paper read before the American Dental Congress
in 1937. The author pointed out that children living on a perfectly
satisfactory diet may still suffer dental decay. In such cases,
investigation generally shows that the child's life at home
or at school is in some way unsatisfactory. The teeth decay
because their owner is under mental strain.(6)
Unless, according to the Buddhist doctrine of Kamma (Sanskrit
Karma), (7) these bad mental states
are caused as a result of one's own acts (Akusala Kamma-Vipaka),
and are therefore unalterable, it is possible so to change these
mental states as to cause mental health and physical well-being
to follow thereafter.
The Power of Truth
factors combine to contribute towards the efficacy of paritta
recitals. Paritta recital is a form of Saccakiriya,
i.e. an asseveration of truth. Protection results by the power
of such asseveration. This means establishing oneself in the
power of truth to gain one's end. At the end of the recital
of each Sutta, the reciters bless the listeners with
the words, 'etena sacca vajjena sotti te hotu sabbada'
which means 'by the power of the truth of these words may you
ever be well.' The saying, 'the power of the Dhamma or
Truth protects the follower of the Shamma' (dhammo
have rakkhati dhammcarin) indicates the principle behind
these Sutta recitals.
in the effective power to heal, or protect, of the Saccakiriya,
or asseveration of something quite true, is but another aspect
of the work ascribed to the Paritta.(8)
The Power of Virtue
discourses of the Book of Protection describe the virtuous life.
The starting point in Buddhism is Sila (virtue). Standing
on the firm ground of Sila one should endeavour to achieve
a collected mind. If it is true that virtue protects the virtuous,
then a person who listens to the recital of Paritta Suttas
intelligently, in a reflective mood, with complete confidence
in the Buddha's words, uttered by one who has gained complete
Enlightenment, will acquire so virtuous a state of mind as would
enable him to dominate any evil influence, and to be protected
from all harm.
The Power of Love
of the compassionate Buddha are never void of love. He walked
the high-ways and by-ways of India enfolding all within the
aura of his love and compassion, instructing, enlightening and
gladdening the many by his teaching. The reciters of the Paritta
are therefore expected to do so with a heart of love and compassion
wishing the listeners and others weal and happiness and protection
from all harm.
is an active force. Every act of one who truly loves is done
with the pure mind to help , to cheer and to make the paths
of others easier, smoother and more adapted to the conquest
of sorrow, the winning of the Highest Bliss.
C. A. F.
Rhys Davids commenting on amity (Metta) writes: 'The
profession of amity, according to Buddhist doctrine, was no
mere matter of pretty speech. It was to accompany and express
a psychic suffusion of the hostile man or beast or spirit with
benign, fraternal emotion - with Metta. For strong was
the conviction, from Sutta and Vinaya, to Buddhaghosa's
Visuddhi Magga, (9) that 'thoughts
are things', that psychical action, emotional or intellectual,
is capable of working like a force among forces. Europe may
yet come round further to this Indian attitude. (10)
The Power of Sound
It is believed
that the vibratory sounds produced by the sonorous and mellifluous
recital of the paritta suttas in their Pali verses are
soothing to the nerves and induce peace and calm of mind; they
also bring about harmony to the physical system.
bad influences springing from evil beings be counteracted by
recital of Paritta Suttas? Bad influences are the results
of evil thinking. They can, therefore, be counteracted by wholesome
states of mind. One sure way of inducing a wholesome state of
mind is by listening and reflecting on Paritta recitals
with intelligence and confidence. So great is the power of concentration
that by adverting whole-heartedly to the truth contained in
the Paritta recitals one is able to develop a wholesome
state of mind.
of Paritta Suttas can also bring material blessings in
its wake through the wholesome states of mind induced by concentration
and confidence in listening intelligently to the recital. According
to the Buddha, right effort is a necessary factor in overcoming
suffering. (11) Listening to these recitals
in the proper way can also generate energy for the purpose of
securing worldly progress while it also secures spiritual progress.
no better medicine than truth (Dhamma) for the mental
and physical ills which are the causes of all suffering and
misfortune. So the recital of Paritta Suttas in as much
as they contain the Dhamma, may, when they are listened
to in the proper attitude, bring into being wholesome states
of mind which conduce to health, material progress and spiritual
progress. The effect of Pirit can also transcend distance
It is true
that the Buddhists consider the Parittas as a never-failing,
potent and purifying force, a super-solvent. However, a question
may arise whether recitals from the Book of Protection will,
in every case, result in the protection and blessing sought
for. In this connection the same reply given by the Venerable
Nagasena to King Milinda's question why the recital of Paritta
does not in all cases protect one from death, is worth remembering:
'Due to three causes recital of paritta may have no effect:
Kamma hindrances (Kammavarana); hindrances from
defilements (Kilesavarana); lack of faith (asaddhanataya).
means action and not the result of action; therefore action
can be counteracted by other action. Kamma is not something
static, but is always changing, i.e. always in the making; that
being so, action can be counteracted by other action. Hence
bad actions on the part of the hearers of the recital may negative
the beneficial effects of the recital.
If the mind
of the hearer is contaminated with impure thoughts then also
the intended beneficial effects of the recital may not materialize.
But however impure the mind of the hearer may be if there is
great confidence in the efficacy of the recital then this important
factor may help to secure for him the beneficial effects of
physical basis of resistance, see The Nature of Disease by
J. E. R.
Mc Donagh, F. R. C. S.
2. Aldous Huxley. Ends and Means (London, 1946), p. 259.
3. The state language of Sri Lanka (Ceylon).
4. See below, discourse no. 5.
5. See below Bojjhanga and Girimananda suttas, numbers
12, 13, 14 and 15.
6. Aldoux Huxley, Ends and Means, London 1946, p. 259.
7. Karma in Buddhism means action brought about by volition.
8. C. A. F. Rhys Davids, Dialogues of the Buddha, part
3, p. 186.
9. Chapter ix. p. 313. According to the Sasamalankara
quoted in Gray's Buddhaghosuppatti, p.15, Buddhaghosa was about
to write a Commentary on the Paritta, when he was sent
to greater work in Ceylon.
10. Dialogues of the Buddha, part 3, p. 185.
11. S., I. 214.
12. Milinda Panha, vol. I., p. 216.